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With the Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car, range anxiety is included

Consumer Reports News: June 11, 2012 05:08 PM

Since February we've been accumulating miles, little by little, on the tiny all-electric i-MiEV we bought soon after its launch.

In this country, early adopters of electric cars have naturally gravitated to the Nissan Leaf; it has served as the vanguard of the mainstream-branded electric car movement now under way. The Leaf not only hit the market before the i-MiEV, but it is a much better car. When comparably equipped, the Leaf is notably more expensive at $38,100 vs. $33,630. (Subtract $7,500 federal tax credit for both for a more real-world figure.) But sometimes, you get what you pay for.

Besides the fact that the i-MiEV is fairly crude and uncomfortable just as a car, we've been disappointed by how far it goes, or doesn't go, on a full charge. In our experience thus far, "range anxiety" has become the foremost factor, overshadowing all other considerations.

The Mitsu caught a break by arriving during the mildest winter Connecticut has had in years. With temperatures hovering in the 40s and 50s, we averaged 56 miles per charge. That's woefully insufficient for drivers like us, who do not live in city centers. As springtime temperatures rose into the 60s and 70s, the i-MiEV managed to wring out 61 miles fairly reliably. And on one breathtaking occasion, it summoned up 77 miles. (Mitsubishi claims a range of 80 miles, but the EPA pegs it at a more realistic 62.) Our overall average so far is 59 miles.

Thrill-seekers we may be, but that roughly 60-mile range proved quite a deterrent for every staff member setting off on a journey outside the greater East Haddam metropolitan area. Often, the car arrived back at base piloted by a white-knuckled staffer with zero miles indicated as the range. Running out of juice isn't the same as running out of gas. No one can come to your aid with a gallon of electricity to tide you over, and knocking on a neighbor's door pleading for an electric outlet may not be well received. If your EV runs out of get-go, it means calling a tow truck.

When totally depleted, something we now know a lot about, the i-MiEV drive battery has been drawing 16 kWh for a full recharge. The process typically takes six hours using a 240-volt charger, which isn't bad. (Mitsubishi says it takes 22 hours using a 120-volt source.)

Electric consumption, which is the starting point for figuring out the cost per mile, has averaged about 3.2 miles/kWh. That's on the frugal end of EV consumption, by contemporary standards. Using the EPA's standard formula, that translates to an energy equivalent of 109 MPGe (mpg equivalent). The EPA rates the car at 112 MPGe.

At the national average of 11 cents per kWh of electricity, the Mitsu yields an extremely low operating cost of 3 cents per mile. However, that's just a trifle better than the 3.5 cents/mile we calculate for our Nissan Leaf, which has a substantially longer range (an average of 75 miles total in our tests), plus a much more habitable interior and overall superior driving experience.

Given the range restrictions, it has taken us some time to accumulate the necessary break-in miles before formal testing can begin. But, we're just about there and can begin scheduling track time soon.

Visit our guide to alternative fuels.

Gabe Shenhar

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